Nokia Confronts N-Gage Gaming Device Hack

Mobile phone giant Nokia said it is investigating and responding to a security breach that allows users to play games for its recently released N-Gage handheld on other mobile devices, including at least one device from another manufacturer.

The Finnish company made the announcement following the Internet circulation of techniques to crack the copy-protection technology of some titles for the N-Gage, which is a combination of mobile phone and handheld gaming device.

While 100 percent perfect copy protection can never be a winning proposition, the N-Gage hack comes only a month after Nokia released the device, which the company had hoped would represent a new market. Adding insult to injury, Internet sites that announced the crack said N-Gage games such as “Sonic” ran perfectly on a Siemens SX1 mobile phone, which runs the same Symbian operating system as N-Gage.

“It runs absolutely flawless with perfect graphics and good sound,” said Siemens phone fan site Club-Siemens.net. Other reports indicated N-Gage games also could be played on other Nokia devices, which Nokia did not intend.

Cards Cracked

Nokia spokesperson Steven Knuff told TechNewsWorld that his company did confirm what the Internet postings claimed earlier this week.

“We’ve investigated the rumors that the copy protections of the Nokia N-Gage game cards have been cracked, and we’ve found that some of the copy-protection mechanisms of some of the game titles have been disabled and that games have been made available for download on various Web sites,” Knuff said.

Knuff said the company has initiated “an aggressive program to stop the individuals and/or entities that are behind these intellectual-property violations.”

Copy Compromises

Yankee Group senior analyst Mike Goodman told TechNewsWorld that despite technological advances, the speed of information sharing on the Internet makes absolute copy protection impossible.

“The bottom line is that there hasn’t been a successful copy-protection scheme written yet,” he said. “If you can build it, someone can take it apart. It just has to get cracked once.”

Nokia’s Knuff said that in addition to cooperating with ISPs, auction sites and authorities to pursue and stop the “illegal activity,” the company is continually developing its copy-protection mechanisms to make game-hacking more difficult in the future.

N-Gage Not Needed

On the Club Siemens site, one message knocks Nokia’s strategy of selling N-Gage games exclusively for that device.

“Nokia wants you to buy an N-Gage phone so that you can play these advanced games,” the message states. “They say they won’t work on other devices. That’s a plain lie, and to prove it we have tested Sonic on the SX1.”

In concert with screen shots of N-Gage games running on the Siemens phone, the site goes on to say it will not respond to e-mail with questions about the cracked versions and that it has no relation to those who cracked the N-Gage games.

“Our wish is that Nokia will allow these games for other devices than the N-Gage so SX-1 users can be able to purchase and buy them legally,” said a statement on the site.

Low Impact, DRM Holdup

Yankee Group wireless analyst Adam Zawel told TechNewsWorld that Nokia’s strategy is to sell the N-Gage as the optimal platform for the games. With interactivity and mobility as its big draws, N-Gage and Nokia are not likely to experience significant pain from the hack, he said.

“Right now, they’re not in the business of making the best games,” he noted, adding that Nokia is agile enough to adjust its strategy to adapt to the market and to piracy.

However, Zawel said a lack of solid digital rights management (DRM) technology is slowing the introduction of more advanced features, such as video, on mobile devices.

“DRM is holding a lot of things up,” he said. “We need a standard that works not only in the wireless world, but can cross into other worlds. Without a clear standard in advance, we’re limited in the content we’re talking about.”

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